Agility 101

I have always wanted to try agility with one of my dogs but never had the chance. So, when we went looking for a golden retriever puppy, I specifically wanted one with sport lines. Harley’s parents are both AKC champion Field Trial dogs and, while not the same as agility, have a lot of the qualities I’ve been told make a good agility dog. Finally, just over a month ago when we finished Harley’s obedience class, we had the opportunity to take our first agility class!

And I am in love.

Harley loves it even more than I do. The first few weeks were a little rough as Harley does have so much energy and was literally bouncing off the equipment. I was nervous to take her off leash and my own excitement was making her even more hyper than she started. But even a fall off the dog walk at full height didn’t curb her enthusiasm for this game.

Since this is the introductory 101 class, we’re mostly concentrating on a safe introduction to the equipment and basic handling tactics. We have started to string obstacles together but only if they are mostly in a straight line. Tunnels have graduated to enough curve that the dog can’t see the opening on the other side and we’ve run through the chute a few times. But with each class, I can see Harley’s confidence growing and she’s picking up on everything so fast.

Because of the Aspen Derby, we had to do a make-up class and it actually ended up being a 102 class. I was worried that the other dogs would be way ahead of Harley but she was actually probably the best dog there. What held her back were my handling skills. The other handlers had already started to learn crossovers and that weird direction change turn that I can master going slow but not really when I’m trying to run around a course.

Here I am trying to run Harley through a tunnel, call a tight turn back to me (which she totally fails) and send her through a different tunnel and totally fail at getting her on my right side to go over the jump:

At the end of this class, we even got to put a bunch of obstacles together that weren’t just on a straight line! Harley is already starting to look for the next thing which saved my butt. After the A-Frame I had her pointed towards a jump but then I completely blocked what side of the tunnel I was supposed to go in. Thankfully my feet and body language were pointing it out for her and she ran in. Granted, in the long run I don’t want her doing what she thinks is next but at this stage it’s great that she’s thinking!

Of course, it’s less great when she breaks a stay and starts without me.

I just really can’t believe how much fun this is, and how much confidence it gives the dogs. Harley didn’t really need a whole lot of extra confidence given to her but it’s amazing to see how far a few of the other pups in her class have come. One blue heeler wouldn’t touch a tunnel on the first day and now he’s going thru them with no issue. A big collie hated the A-frame but now prances up it with a lot more swagger. If you’ve ever considered doing agility but figured your dog wouldn’t like it, I highly recommend you give it a shot. It’s so much fun for both the dogs and the handlers.

I can tell you I won’t be giving up on these classes! Someday I’d really like to take Harley to a show and work on getting her qualifiers.